Scalded by trademark infringement from names including Starstruck, global coffee giant Starbucks Corp. is taking no chances.
The Seattle, US-based company has trademarked the “Starbucks” brand in at least 10 Indian languages, including Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Bangla, Gujarati and even Urdu—almost as diverse as the states it eventually set up shop in.
Catching on: A Starbucks coffee outlet in Shanghai, China. With the burgeoning Indian middle class, it is becoming fashionable to drink coffee in outlets similar to Starbucks, such as Barista and Cafe Coffee Day.
It’s still unclear when Starbucks will enter India after the international coffee chain withdrew its application from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, which approves investments into the country from abroad, in November because government officials raised objections to the majority foreign holding structure of the proposed venture. In India, overseas brands can’t hold more than 51% of any single-brand outlet. Starbucks’ overseas holding was adding up to more than that.
Stung by the objections, Starbucks decided to put on hold its India plans.
With the ranks of middle-class Indian swelling, drinking coffee in outlets similar to Starbucks is becoming fashionable in India’s cities and big towns. The country already has several indigenous brands such as Barista and Cafe Coffee Day, and international ones such as Costa Coffee. But with coffee drinking turning into a fad, even those who have had little to do with coffee chains have stepped in. India’s first and most celebratedproducer of herbal beauty potions and creams, Shahnaz Husain, has registered Startstruck as a trademark, brewing up a bit of storm. Starbucks is locked in a legal battle over the similar sounding name.
Starbucks is also challenging another case in India’s Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks for a deceptively similar name. The American chain is now in 13,000 locations worldwide and if the company has its way, it will be in 27,000 more locations, including some in India.
Vikrant Rana, Starbucks’ trademark lawyer in India, declined to comment on the registrations.
Foreign companies from food chain McDonald’s Corp. to retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have faced trademark related issues in India. Wal-Mart has more than 100 trademark registrations in India of various brands and slogans and the company has successfully been able to stop Indians from using not only the Wal-Mart name but even similar sounding names such as Mall-Mart, Call-Mart and Hal-Mart among others. Companies yet to enter India are expected to run into trademark-related problems as individuals and firms, that have little to do with the ownership of these brands, have registered trademarks for various global brands from 7-Eleven to Burger King.
Some market watchers say India is too lucrative a market for Starbucks to ignore for long and that the firm is expected to revisit?its India plans in coming years. It’s moving in early this time. “It takes a long time in India,” said Starbucks’.